It’s Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week. This week I will be posting daily about PND: practical advice about how and where to get help, as well as more of my personal PND and anxiety story, and what I have learned from my recovery.
You can read yesterday’s post about asking for help as a new mum here.
Chinese culture insists that new mothers spend the first month postpartum in a state of rest or confinement. They don’t shower or leave the house, and they eat a modified diet of warm food. All their meals and housework are taken care of by other members of the family, and besides breastfeeding, the mother also relinquishes most of the care of her new baby to her family (source). The tradition might sound extreme or unrealistic in our society, but it raises an important question for mothers of all cultural backgrounds – should we be taking rest and self-care more seriously as new mothers?
When you have your baby, your body has just been through a testing 9 months of pregnancy, followed by an intense labour and birth experience. You might have had a traumatic birth, or a caesarean (which is major surgery), so taking life very easy for a month or two and soaking up life with your newborn, is actually a very sensible idea.
Prioritising your own self-care is an important part of keeping mentally and emotionally well as a new mum.
Here are 12 ways that you can put your self-care first, to reduce your risk of developing Post Natal Depression or Anxiety as a new mother.
1. Make rest a priority
You’ve probably been told to “Sleep when the baby sleeps”, and you might be thinking “well that would be lovely, but there’s so much to do“.
But I think the reason that this advice is repeated over and over to new mums is because it makes a lot of sense. It’s not always practical to sleep when your baby is, especially if you have a baby that catnaps, but I really believe that those moments are vital to your self-care as a new mum.
If you don’t want to sleep, you could try a short guided meditation (like this one), drink a hot cup of tea while reading a magazine, or sit outside with your eyes closed and the sun on your face. Rest is just as important as sleep.
2. Make naptime a housework-free zone.
This is something that I learned the hard way! It can be so tempting to spend your baby’s naptime cleaning, especially if you’re someone who hates an untidy house. But you will always regret not using naptime to rest when you finally finish folding that huge pile of washing and you sit down with a cup of tea… and your baby wakes up.
The housework will still be there later. Don’t feel compelled to finish it all while the baby is napping.
3. Tune into your intuition and trust your instincts and your baby.
Trusting yourself is a vital element of self-care for any new mum.
As a new parent, I felt completely overwhelmed by all the conflicting advice I received about how to care for my baby. Feeding, sleeping, routines, developmental milestones, crying, play, and everything else in between seemed to be a contentious issue in the scary new world of motherhood. Even the professionals seemed to disagree on most aspects of baby care. As a 21 year old mum with virtually zero actual baby care experience, I felt confused and worried that whatever choices I made were going to hurt my baby.
Eventually I realised that no matter what choice I made, somebody would always think it was the wrong one. So I decided to stop listening to all the noise out there, and instead tune in to my own intuition. Women are built to make babies, and we all have our own maternal instincts. We just have to listen carefully, trust our gut, and believe that we’ll be able to figure out the best solution for our baby and for our family.
Now step away from the pile of parenting books!
4. Be very selective about your visitors, especially during your hospital stay. Let people know ahead of time that you’ll be having visitors once you get home from hospital. If anyone shows up unexpectedly, make an agreement with your midwife to politely inform them that you and bub need to rest. I organised this with my midwife after Harry was born, and she was more than happy to help. In fact, she told me that she was so proud of my assertiveness and she thought it was the greatest act of self-care that she’d seen from a new mum. I was pretty proud of myself too 🙂
Remember, your baby is only 2 days old once in their life. Use your hospital stay as the perfect time to bond with your little bundle. Aunt Mavis and second-cousin Betty can wait a week before meeting your bub.
Trust me, any potential conflict that turning visitors away might cause, will be completely forgotten once your relatives hold your beautiful baby for the first time.
5. When people do visit, ask them to help out (or get your partner to ask for you).
Visitors can bring or prepare a meal, put on a load of washing, do some dishes or just make you a cup of tea. When you have a brand new baby to care for, you shouldn’t be expected to take care of visitors as well. If you feel uncomfortable asking people to help, you can direct them towards a strategically-placed list of chores that need completing.
6. Try to maintain your basic self-care needs, and ask your partner or support person to help you achieve this. What’s your bare minimum for feeling competent, clean and prepared for the day? It could be to have a shower and get dressed in fresh clothes every day. Or to leave the house for fresh air at least once a day.
These things might seem simple, but it’s so easy to let them slip when you’re deep in the fog of new motherhood. And it’s amazing how much better you can feel after a shower and a walk around the block.
7. Embrace the word ‘No’.
Set boundaries with your family and friends, and stick to them. For example, if you’re overwhelmed by social invitations in the early weeks with your newborn, or later on you feel a lot of external pressure to return to work or study before you feel ready, explain to your loved ones that you need more time before jumping back into normal life.
New motherhood is a period of adjustment for everyone, including your family and friends. Being clear about your needs and limitations can make this time easier for everyone, and will help you to adjust emotionally and mentally to this new stage.
8. Make some friends. The newborn phase is a period of adjustment for all families. Many partners will go back to work after 2 or 3 weeks of paternity leave, and this is often the point when new mums will start to feel isolated and lonely. It’s so important that you find a support network to alleviate some of the isolation that comes with having a baby.
Mothers groups, either online or in-person, can be a godsend for many women. If you don’t feel a strong connection with your mother’s group, don’t force yourself to attend, but try to seek out support and connection from other people in your community. Socialising is a major part of self-care for new mums.
9. Ask for help. Try to keep an open dialogue with your partner and support network. Make sure you are clearly expressing your needs to them on a daily basis. It’s impossible for people to help us if they don’t know what we need.
Do you need your partner to take over a night feed on the weekend so you can have some extra sleep? Do you need to hire a cleaner for a few months, so that most of the housework is done for you? Express your concerns and your desires with the people you love, and you will be better equipped to cope with day-to-day life with a newborn.
Importantly, if you notice that your mood is consistently low, or you have symptoms of anxiety, reaching out for help and advice from a trained professional is crucial for your own wellbeing, and for your baby. Read this post for ideas to make asking for help a bit easier.
10. Don’t be afraid to organise time away from your baby if you feel like you need it. A few hours to get your hair cut or to meet a friend for coffee could do you the world of good.
On the other hand, some mothers can’t stand the idea of spending time away from their newborn. Whatever works for you is self-care.
11. Make some time each day for non-baby related talk with another adult.
It can be mighty lonely as a new mother, especially if your partner works long hours. There is something magical about the “newborn bubble”, but it can also make you feel a little crazy when you spend the majority of your day talking to a baby that gives you nothing back in terms of conversation. Try to set aside 15 mins after your partner gets home from work to talk about your day (and theirs) and try to avoid any baby talk.
12. Be gentle with yourself.
Before our beautiful babies are born, we all have ideas about how parenting is supposed to go, and the kind of mother that we want to be. But usually, like most things in life, motherhood doesn’t always match our expectations.
Lower the expectations that you’ve placed on yourself. Treat yourself with kindness, and forgive yourself when things don’t go exactly to plan. Trust that you’re doing the very best that you can.
Self-compassion is the greatest act of self-care.
You can join the conversation about Perinatal Depression + Anxiety Awareness Week on Facebook. If you need help, please call PANDA’s national helpline on 1300 726 306 (Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm) or make an appointment with your GP.
Do you have any other ways to prioritise self-care as a new mum?
Please share in the comments below.